Annie Rebekah Gardner and Hanaa Safwat live in Cairo, Egypt. They both had a very disappointing International Women’s Day.

Annie: Between the clashes at the Ministry of the Interior on Sunday and over ten being killed in Moqattam on Tuesday night, my optimism about the revolution (especially after an amazing Saturday night) has been on a steady decline, and in fact the counter-revolutionary currents presently going down have quite turned my speculation about changing masculinity on its head. Today, I’m having a feminist pizza party with Hanaa Safwat, a student, artist and revolutionary, to discuss the abysmal events of International Women’s Day, even as the inimitable Nawal el Sadawi is named in The Guardian‘s list of top 100 feminists (along with… Oprah?). Hanaa, you want to give us a rundown of what happened on March 8th?

Hanaa: Last week, there was a call for a protest by a group of NGOs and activists for women’s rights to protest on Tuesday, though the response online was not very big. I have several thoughts about this. First of all, a lot of people believe its not a good time to protest right now because things are sort of at a standstill, there’s a lot of confusion, and people want to give the interim government time to do something, and it’s kind of seen as a sectarian demand. I completely disagree with that. The other reasons given are bad timing, bad organization and of course the eternal reason: pure sexism, and people who just don’t think its legitimate for women to protest for their rights. They don’t even see what the problem is.

Annie and I both got to Tahrir at the same time. We made signs, and the organizers were distributing flyers and signs, which all had the same demands, like the fact that the committee to make amendments on the constitution didn’t have any women in it. There were demands for more representation of women in the cabinet and parliament, and that women should have a bigger role in helping to shape the changes that are happening in Egypt right now. One problem was that most of the women there were not veiled, which honestly isn’t representative of the general demographic of Egyptian women. They were mostly from upper-middle class backgrounds. There was a high percentage of foreigners, and there were a good amount of men, but it seems like some of them were just hanging out to watch.

Annie: We all do love spectacle! While we were there, stuff had started to get a little tense already, with lots of scuffles here and there and noisy old dudes saying that a woman couldn’t possibly be president.

Hanaa: Also that if women wanted equal rights, they should join the army. It’s not our fault that we live in a sexist state that doesn’t allow women to join the military!

Annie: Anyway, the vibe was getting bad, so we left to go get drunk at our preferred watering hole.

Hanaa: Which, if you think about it, was in and of itself an act of rebellion, because we’re not supposed to be sitting there, and we’re not supposed to be drinking.

Annie: Or smoking. Or laughing loudly.

Hanaa: Talking to boys.

Annie: Remember when the dude walked in to the bar with a “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt and we all started clapping?

Hanaa: The poor guy just looked so distressed. Which is probably how most of the male allies at the protest felt, as they were being mocked and shamed. One guy was standing in front of me having a discussion and he wasn’t necessarily against us, but to some extent he was just a typical guy who thinks he’s pro-feminism and pro-women’s rights. He was like, “But you already have some really good rights. Our laws are still really good.” But that same guy and his friends were goofing around and they dared him to stand up with a sign. He stood up for five seconds and said, “See? I can do it,” and then stepped down again. He said something like, “Mayehemenish,” which basically means, “I don’t care.” Anyway, we heard later on – as we were at the bar – that women were chased out of the square. Women were chased out, molested, roughed up by people, mostly by men.

Annie: Even while we were there, shit started to go down. My friend’s five-year-old daughter was handing out flyers and watched as a group of both dudes and ladies ripped them out of her hands and threw them on the ground. Traumatic when you’re five. Seeing her cry, that frustration, made me livid. Perhaps in the heat of the moment I sent some tweets that alluded to castration! Who could know! I don’t remember, because I was seeing red. I think the fact that there were women complicit in these misogynist acts just made me even angrier.

Hanaa: Yes. Two days before the march, I was sitting with my cousin and mentioned that there was a march for women’s rights on Tuesday, and she asked, “Why? Do women not have rights?” I was in shock and asked her, “Are you making a joke?” and she said, “I’m serious, I just don’t see the need.” I was completely baffled, and pointed out that, for example, there’s no law against sexual harassment in this country. Later, she brought up one particular law, Khol’a, which is a woman’s right to divorce her husband. The problem with that is that to get divorced, women have to give up everything: your house, your dowry, your engagement ring, because women don’t pay dowry, men do. So her husband gives her that money, she has to give it back. It was ridiculous that she even brought it up because the law only helps women who are financially comfortable. It doesn’t help lower class women. It puts women in a situation where they can divorce a man and be destitute, or stay with him just because they need money. This woman, in fact, recently went through a divorce. She’s educated. But she doesn’t get it. This cousin, by the way, is the same woman who wanted to live in the 19th ventury after watching Pride and Prejudice.

Annie: BBC Version?

Hanaa: No, it was the feature film with Kiera Knightley.

Annie: For shame! BBC Pride and Prejudice, khalas. That’s the only one.

Hanaa: We should talk more about why people were against the protest. As I said, there’s a lot of confusion right now. There’s all these issues with the secret police, and theories are that secret police and salafis are trying to work to divide people. People are using this to explain the widespread opposition to the march, but a lot of those who opposed it were regular men. In their mind, women do have rights, and these extra demands – a say in their political future – are irrational and unrealistic and excessive.

Annie: We should also talk a little bit about sexual harassment, I think. We’ve discussed this on the blog before, but I think one of the really traumatic facts of Tuesday’s march was that by the end, many women had been violently sexually assaulted, and in several instances by men who they had camped in Tahrir with for the entirety of the uprising. I guess for me I’m just baffled that there was such a complete 180 in attitude. As we all know, women were integral to this revolution, and to see their desire to be part of a political future be laughed off was incredibly demoralizing.

Hanaa: Sexual harassment is just this topic that needs an encyclopedia, or an army of psychologists to dissect. There’s this general method of thought – I made a sign for the protest about it, in fact – that women are like these precious jewels, they’re supposed to be guarded, nobody should touch them, they should be protected and so on. When this jewel goes out in public, they have chosen to put themselves in danger, so they get what they ask for. The other problem with this thought is that a jewel is an object. It doesn’t have consciousness or desires or aspirations. It’s a thing, not a human being. So this whole method of thought, and add to that debates where people are blaming the victim, just like Lara Logan being blamed for her assault because she was an attractive woman. In this case, it’s that she wasn’t dressed modestly enough. She’s not covered up as she should be. The problem with that is that it has been proven time and time again that a man who sexually harasses a woman does not care what she’s wearing. It’s just a female on the street. They market wearing the veil as some kind of protection against these wolves on the street, and that’s a lie. Sexual harassment is not something you should be protected from, it’s something that should be battled, something that should be faced.

Annie: So do you think this event has radicalized your personal brand of feminism?

Hanaa: I think it was already radicalized. I walk in the street every day. This is something I had seen before, just in this case it was more theatrical. I hear sexism every day from anybody who talks about anything related to feminism. For example you sit with a random guy, you’re talking about a career, and he suddenly mentions he doesn’t want his future wife to work because he thinks it would put her in harms way. That conversation happens every day. So what I saw on Tuesday wasn’t new.

Annie: It was just much more of a stark example.

Hanaa: It was like a performance. An instructional video on how it is to be a woman in Egypt.

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